“…the principle of civil reciprocity is a solid one, for which reason it is occasion for total, staggering dismay that it appears to be on its way out.” Lynne Truss fumes in her wonderfully, hotheaded bestseller, Talk to the Hand #?*! The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay at Home and Bolt the Door.
“Shut up Mom!” hollers a three year old from her perch in the grocery cart. “Is this all there is?” a six year old questions, as he unhappily chooses a lollipop from the reward bag his teacher has just handed him. “I was going to invite my friend Jordan, but he couldn’t make it, so I had to invite you…” laments a 13 year old boy to a classmate, as he chews an enormous bite of a sandwich…with his mouth open…
“I don’t want to prepare her for a cotillion, maybe I could just get her to look up at me and stop ‘texting’ for a moment, when I ask her about her day?” says the dad of sixth grade Stephanie.
People are mourning the loss of etiquette. The search term that brings the highest number of people to my parenting blog, day after day, year after year is “children’s manners”. Parents want their children to be well mannered and they themselves would like to be treated with dignity and respect…maybe even a little deference.
Kids are kids and expected to say outrageous things from time to time. The days of “children should be seen and not heard” are long gone. However, children need to be trained to not only place their napkins in their laps, but to be aware that they are members of a large global society. As the credit card commercial says, “Membership has its privileges”. Membership also has its responsibilities, the biggest responsibility, valuing the other members.
If kids aren’t displaying good manners, it is not a big stretch to assume that parents aren’t teaching and/or modeling good manners. A father, who demonstrates boorish manners, gives the green light to his child to use boorish manners; dad might even think it is funny when his child acts out in public. The problem is we (instructors, teachers, coaches, admissions officers, and bosses) don’t find the child’s behavior funny, and we (instructors, teachers, coaches, admissions officers, and bosses) quickly pass him over. Sadly, the ill-mannered child never had a chance; his father chose his behavior, and the consequences of that behavior, for him.
Why aren’t parents teaching manners if they would like their children to use good manners, and they know that their children must exhibit good manners to succeed?
It does seem, from the many parents that I interview, that parents today are not too keen on being the “bad guys” to their children. Parents want their children to have manners, but cringe at correcting their children’s bad behavior. “I hate to come home from work after not seeing my kids all day and have to start disciplining their behavior; I would rather just goof around with them.”
Other parents didn’t receive manners training themselves, so teaching manners to their children is not an option. “I feel at a huge disadvantage. I wasn’t taught manners as a child and I am very uncomfortable in certain social situations. I struggle at business events because, I hate to admit it, I don’t have a lot of tact, sometimes, I inadvertently blurt out some inane and completely inappropriate comment. I just do not even know where to begin to teach him a better way to behave.”
It is not uncommon to hear parents today say that their children are “gifted”, “brilliant”, “testing for genius”, or possessing “perfect pitch”. Perhaps these parents are so busy pointing out the great, it is difficult to see the not-so-great? Maybe these parents are fearful if they say anything deemed negative or judgmental, they will damage their children’s psyches? Maybe pointing out a child’s “not-so-great” behavior makes the parent look “not-so-great”?
Many people hypothesize the reasons behind (per the sub-title in Lynn Truss’ book), “The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today.” Maybe the trend is a consequence of high divorce rates, increasing single parent homes, the great number of two working parents, political correctness, video games, The Media, The Internet, the pornification of society…maybe a combination of the list? But is the question even relevant? None of these “possible causes” are going away any time soon.
So it becomes our job as parents to accept the culture as it is today, and teach our children good manners. Arming our children with manners and values allows them the opportunity to make good choices when faced with the curve balls, “the world” will inevitably throw at them.
Respecting and valuing others, developing high integrity and making others feel at ease, are probably the key reasons that society practices good manners. Manners put us at ease with those people that we know. Manners make us feel safe around complete strangers.
It would be anxiety provoking, to say the least, if there were no rules of social etiquette. What if, when browsing through a dress rack at the mall, it was perfectly acceptable for the stranger browsing alongside us, coveting the discounted blouse we got to first, to pop us one in the jaw and wrestle us to the floor for the garment? How often would we go to the mall?
It is okay that social standards have relaxed over the past 75 years. Rigidity and strict rules don’t fit today’s world. Pinafores, cotillions, white gloves, dessert spoons, sipping tea from the saucer, and pillbox hats seem out of place in most social circles. But the basic tenets of etiquette still hold strong and true.
Proper table manners, pleasant conversational skills, appropriate dress and the use of tact are social graces that make interacting with others easy and agreeable. Etiquette rules that embrace the goals of respecting and valuing others, having high integrity and putting others at ease, make living side by side easy. It is hard to argue the merit of good etiquette.
Fail to teach children manners and fail them. Without proper manners training, children will run into awkward situations as they mature that will probably limit their options for success. We want our kids to be participatory members of a thriving and exciting, civil society. The last thing that parents want for their children is for them to have to “Stay home and bolt the door.”